A screenshot from Mars Vice showing a red sports car on an empty road facing towards a distant city clouded in a purple haze and underneath a yellow sky.

Described by project lead Ruairí as an “Anti buddy cop” adventure, the narrative heavy game follows Anaya and Dax through the world of Mars Vice where bodies are available, to those who can afford them…

In January 2023, a giant promotional poster for the German Federal Police was erected in central Berlin. The poster featured images of smiling police officers, and attempted to reclaim the anti-police acronym ACAB. Rather than reading All Cops Are Bastards, the poster read All Cops Are Beautiful.

Unsurprisingly, this attempt to reclaim a statement of frustration at institutional corruption within police forces around the globe was not well received.

When Ruairí Rodinson, project lead on the upcoming video game Mars Vice, shared this story with me when we met at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany recently, I fully understood its significance. As a Northern Irish game developer living in Germany, developing a game explicitly about attempts to dismantle and confront police corruption, through a queer and trans lens, it was clear that the game’s examination of policing was unlikely to be surface level, or from a personally unimpacted perspective.

A screenshot from Mars Vice showing a futuristic ID card sitting on a shelf next to some books and a photo in a frame. The ID reads: “MP8-2158-633425 Daxton Robichaux CIO Investigator” Dax is captioned saying “So that’s where my ID was, I thought I’d lost another”.

In Mars Vice, you play as Dax, a humanoid lion trans man, and his human companion Anaya, as they navigate a world heavily impacted by body modification, and its overlaps with rampant capitalism. Described by Ruairí as an “Anti buddy cop” adventure, the narrative heavy game follows the tropes of an inexperienced rookie, Anaya, paired with the much more Mars setting familiar Dax, in an explicitly anti-capitalist and anti-police plot.

As a trans person, I often feel a degree of caution when it comes to stories about transhumanism that overlap with topics such as real world gender transition, but speaking with Ruairí about the setting and development of Mars Vice, is was quickly apparent that the game’s story, and its interactions with science fiction, had been well thought through both narratively, and in terms of their development approach.

In the world of Mars Vice, synthetic mechanical bodies are becoming fairly accessible, but with notable drawbacks and limitations to consider. These are corporatised, mass produced synthetic bodies, the kind of bodies you might expect to be sold out of a clean, clinical, high end Apple Store type facility. They come in very standard “marketable” styles, with modifications having to be performed in shady clinics to vary from acceptable default appearances. Bodies are sold via loans, with the risk of your body being reclaimed if you can’t keep up your payments. Bodies are available, to those who can afford them, and want the acceptable styles offered.

A screenshot from Mars Vice showing two characters, a humanoid blue bear and a humanoid spotted hyena in an office setting.

As someone who has had experience with having to privately fund my own gender transition surgery and hormone access, as well as someone who has like many trans people had to wrestle with my visibility as a trans person, and inability to make myself invisible in a world that demands cis presentation from many trans people, I can certainly see the overlaps with my own experiences, which feel explored in ways that resonate, and don’t feel like explorations of transness through metaphor via an outside lens.

Mars Vice is being developed by a core development team that contains multiple trans people, but the development team still sought multiple sources of external consultation, even on topics they felt the dev team had personal experience with. It was clear talking to Ruairí that there was an understanding that, even if you have personal experience with a topic, there might be aspects of a group’s experience that you don’t catch based on your own perspective’s limitations. Hearing the development team was seeking consultation even on topics they had personal experience with really reassured me they were approaching the game’s themes with a sensible understanding of the topics being handled.

Dax, the game’s trans man main character, is undoubtedly trans, but his trans status apparently doesn’t define his journey. He exists in a world in which trans status has interesting interactions with the core science fiction conceits of the setting, but it’s not what his story is ultimately about. There’s a reason I think Ruairí told me the story of the All Cops Are Beautiful billboard in Berlin before they spoke at length to me about Dax’s trans status. This is at its core a story about battling police corruption, it just happens to star a trans lead character.

Dax is a bit of a himbo, a lovable but not always quick on the upkeep hero who wants to enact change, even if he’s unsure how. He’s got flaws, but not flaws Ruairí assured me that play into tropes about how trans people are perceived. He’s a person, and more than anything, he wants to remind Mars that All Cops Are Bastards, not beautiful.

This article was funded by LGBT+ Futures: Equity Fund is a two-year £786,000 partnership between Consortium and The National Lottery Community Fund, designed to help community-led and grassroot organisations supporting some of the most under-represented and marginalised LGBT+ communities. Read more here.